Editor-At-Large: Does Ed believe in marriage, or is he merely canvassing?

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The Independent Online

Once, a marriage announcement was a reason for celebration; now, it's a cause of embarrassment. God forbid Ed Miliband's forthcoming nuptials should offend anyone and lose him a single vote. Here's the deal: he's not bothering with a best man. There won't be a big party. In fact, the couple are not even going to stay the night at the nice hotel where they're having a small reception. And any honeymoon (however modest) will probably be postponed. I doubt Justine will wear white. She probably won't buy a new dress but do a bit of recycling. In other words, it's going to be a low-key event, in complete contrast with the royals.

So is this wedding a sign of the times? Mr Miliband claims that he proposed ages ago and hadn't got round to organising the formalities because he was "too busy". He's not exactly handing out a ringing vote of confidence in the institution of marriage – in fact, his pathetic stance sums up our "whatever" society. When asked if he thought marriage was a good idea, he told one interviewer: "It's up to everyone to do what they think is right." Talk about hedging your bets.

What's so wrong with saying, "I am proud to be getting married" and "I want my kids to grow up with a mum and dad. I think marriage is a good framework for raising families"? Rest assured, those words will never pass Ed Miliband's lips. In modern society, saying you believe in marriage is more shocking than saying you've snacked on crack. If David Cameron says (as he has on many occasions) that he thinks marriage is an important institution, it's all too predictable that Cleggie and Milibandroid would never dare to concur. Agreement in politics stinks of emasculation.

You could say they're only reflecting public opinion – statistics suggest that marriage has never been more unpopular, and the average age for women tying the knot has risen steadily to 30, and for men, 32. One theory is we've dumped marriage in favour of having fun. Why make sacrifices or reduce your life choices to be with just one individual? There's a bizarre idea that marriage means the end of the impromptu, enjoyable stage of your life, and the beginning of the dark, dreary years. Spend your twenties out with your mates – drinking, shopping, working, putting yourself first – and sod monogamy. But look at the result: huge numbers of single mums, kids with no rules at home, and parents who don't want the responsibility.

Is it reactionary of me to expect political leaders to offer some kind of role model to the people they are paid to represent? Why can't Ed Miliband celebrate marriage, instead of treating it like another bullet point to be ticked off on his carefully crafted political agenda? He's certainly put work first – being "busy" getting elected leader of the Labour party, attending the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, making a speech to the protesters on the anti-cuts march last weekend. But he wasn't too busy to sire two children, and, once he was a dad, shouldn't his family have been considered before everything else?

Labour has always claimed to be the party that stands up for women, but its leaders seem weirdly reluctant to endorse marriage, the single act that makes women equal. Most women with children would secretly prefer to be married: it gives them financial and emotional stability and ensures maintenance if they are dumped. If fewer people are getting married, perhaps Miliband dared not risk alienating them by appearing too enthusiastic for this arcane institution.

How we regard marriage is more complex than the statistics imply, however. Most of middle England – the people who vote, not the young – still value marriage highly. If Ed Miliband cares about women's rights, then he should endorse marriage because it ensures children will be protected by law and, in the event of a marriage failing, women will be able to obtain a better settlement. Living together gives dads no guarantee that in the event of a relationship ending they will get access to their children without spending a great deal of money on legal fees. Miliband should grow up and endorse marriage. What's wrong with moral leadership?

Tell us about your cancer, men, but not your sex lives

Did Andrew Lloyd Webber stop and think before he told Piers Morgan and a television studio full of strangers that his operation for prostate cancer had left him unable to have sex? I wonder what the impact of the revelation has been on his wife, Madeleine, and their three teenage children?

It's not hard to understand why Andrew decided to reveal so much. I know quite a few chaps who have had the disease, and they all want it to be publicised as much as possible. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer for men (rates have trebled over the past three decades), and the more it is discussed openly and without embarrassment, the more men will seek help if they suspect something might be wrong. A simple blood test can help reveal if the cancer is present – and then treatment can range from radical surgery to radiotherapy.

I really didn't want to know about penis pumps and Viagra, though. Am I being squeamish? Decide for yourself when Piers Morgan's Life Stories is shown on ITV1 at 9.10pm next Saturday.

New national park is a rare treasure

A big welcome to a wonderful addition to the British countryside: the South Downs National Park.

Bells were rung on Friday in celebration at churches throughout the park, which stretches from the Seven Sisters near Eastbourne to Winchester, and takes in Arundel and some of our finest chalk downs. National Park status means that these fragile (but very popular) open spaces will be protected from development, and that thousands of visitors will not erode and diminish their appeal.

I hope that the cost of setting up national parks does not mean that the South Downs is the last – we urgently need to ensure that other areas gain the same status. Once developed, the countryside can never be replaced.

Bad weather? That'll be £2, please

Buying an air ticket online from Ryanair is a very demanding experience. It takes a lot of concentration to work out how to remove unnecessary charges – and before you know what's happened, that £29.99 ticket to Venice is costing £100.

It cleverly charges for checking in online, for extra bags, for sports equipment, for priority boarding. If you don't print out your boarding pass, you can expect another fine. Now there's a new levy – passengers are being asked to pay £2 extra on every journey to cover charges the airline says it has to pay in compensation when flights are cancelled due to circumstances out of its control, such as bad weather and strikes.

Would life be so much easier for Michael O'Leary, the airline's mouthy owner, if he didn't have to contend with that irritant called a passenger?